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House of Commons Hansard #75 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was flag.

Topics

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4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Bonwick Liberal Simcoe—Grey, ON

My apologies, Mr. Speaker. As you can see, I am somewhat passionate on this issue because of the absolute disgust that I have for the way this thing has gone on for the last two weeks.

There have been some comments made here today with respect to the members on the Reform side suggesting that they are being respectful, that they are following due process, that they are simply trying to get these Canadian flags on their desks. They feel that it is a good use of time discussing this for two weeks, effectively shutting down government for two weeks when we should be discussing things like health, we should be discussing things likes education, we should be doing things like true parliamentarians and not simply grandstanding.

I am going to quote a couple of statements that were made by my Reform colleagues just to refresh their memories.

On February 15 the member for Edmonton North sent out a press release. I will quote it. “I just wish there was some substance to go along with this symbolism. Setting aside a day for waving the flag, jumping up and down, singing stirring songs, is a nice gesture. It is also a good way to keep warm in February.”

I do not find that very humorous. Canadians would rather see some substance from this government, a national unity plan, real job creation, a balanced budget and much needed tax relief. That is exactly what this government is trying to do. That is exactly what this opposition party is trying to stop. It is simple grandstanding and they should be absolutely ashamed of themselves. They have been carrying on like spoiled children. Imagine driving around the Parliament Buildings in a car with the Canadian flag painted on it, with the roof cut off, hooting and hollering and waving the flag. True parliamentary spirit? I think not.

I heard a statement made by the member for Fraser Valley that this is ridiculous and it should not be happening. This was on March 9, not that far in the past. He said we should be on to the business of the budget.

The hon. members can say what they want about newspaper articles, but what we are going to do is waste our time. It is absolutely shameful.

I know that my colleagues on this side and that side of the House are truly proud Canadians. I suggest that my Reform colleagues reflect on what they are doing to this nation. They suggest that they are a national party. I say shame on them. They are not a national party. They are driving a wedge.

We must understand the true reason why the Reform members are doing this. The true reason is not because there is some great sense of patriotism that has come over them in the last two weeks. The true reason is that it is nothing more than headline grabbing. It is an opportunity to drive a wedge in this country, ever widening the problems that we are facing right now. I am absolutely disgusted at what has actually been taking place.

I have sat here and listened to my hon. friend—I should say my Reform colleague. I will not use that term when dealing with them from now on. I have listened to my Reform colleague talk about how proud his members are of the Canadian flag and how this is such a just issue that we should be debating, costing the taxpayers hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

As I sat there and listened, I almost believed him. Then, when he was talking about one of his Reform colleagues having greasy fingers from lunch and slipped and dropped the Canadian flag on the ground, that is not the way it happened and he should not try to twist it that way. The flag was thrown on the ground in disrespect.

I am a very proud Canadian. I look around this House and see all sorts of symbols that represent what Canada is to me. I see young people. I see a democratic process taking place. I see two very large Canadian flags. I look around at the lapels of most of the people in this room and see Canadian pins. I can demonstrate my sense of pride without having a flag on the corner of my desk. I too have had constituents call me and they are absolutely disgusted about the way the Reform Party has carried on for two weeks. It has compromised the integrity of this House of Commons which has a proud tradition.

If there is one saving grace, it is that Canadians truly understand now that there is absolutely no level that the Reform Party will not sink to in order to grab a headline or to grandstand. That is shameful. The only good thing about this is that Canadians now know what the consequences would have been had they ever made the Reform Party a government. Reform members should be completely ashamed of themselves.

We have some extremely important issues that we need to be discussing in this House. The government should be dealing with issues of tax relief and the direction of this country and not just today but for years to come. No party should ever tie up this House for several days for no other reason than grandstanding.

If the Reform Party truly had this sense of patriotism that it seems to be showing with its Canadian ties, shirts and flag cars, it would withdraw this motion. I do not think Reform members truly understand the harm that they are doing to this country.

Despite the fact that my NDP colleagues, Conservative colleagues and Bloc colleagues are all trying to come to some sort of an agreement on this issue, the Reform members simply do not want to play ball. They see an opportunity to get front page coverage. They see an opportunity to drive around in a funny little car with a Canadian flag on it, throw some flags and insult some people. Well, that is not what a parliamentarian is to me.

Back in my riding of Simcoe—Grey, shortly after being elected I decided to put in place a program where I have actually toured around and visited schools. I have handed out Canadian flags to students and Canadian pins to those who are travelling abroad.

There is lots of room in this country for Canadian flags. I am sure members will agree with me that this motion is truly unconscionable and is disrespectful to this House. It is disrespectful to Canadians and you have absolutely embarrassed yourselves.

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4:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Before we get to questions and comments, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Frontenac—Megantic, Asbestos Industry.

On questions and comments, the hon. member for West Kootenay—Okanagan and then a member for the Bloc.

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4:25 p.m.

Reform

Jim Gouk Reform West Kootenay—Okanagan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member that just spoke talked about disrespect and what a terrible thing this is. Let us examine what terrible thing it is we are doing. We are asking for the right to display a small stationary flag on our desk.

This matter arose out of deliberately instigating an event which we joined in along with everyone else. Their party instigated the disruptive part of this matter. The members of his party were the ones that instigated this and the hon. member should keep that in mind.

We are not asking for the right to use these as props, but simply to have them available and have them on our desks. One member did something that was totally inappropriate and he is very sorry for it. If someone right now at tax time is doing their tax returns and in frustration at the taxes they are going to pay, throw their coffee mug at the wall, they do not do it to punish the cup. They do not do it to punish the wall. They do it out of frustration. This does not make it right. Let us get things in perspective.

I would ask this one question. After all the rhetoric by that member, would he be ashamed to display a small Canadian flag on his desk as he probably does on his desk in his office in Ottawa and perhaps even in his riding?

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4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Bonwick Liberal Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Reform member for the question. I do display a Canadian flag. It is here on my lapel. I do display Canadian flags in this House. They are on each side of the Speaker's chair.

I am part of this House and as part of this House those flags are every bit mine as they are the Speaker's. To sit here and have the Reform member trivialize our flag, trivialize a flag being thrown on the ground to that of taking a coffee cup and throwing it against the wall truly epitomizes what the true Reform feeling is. It is absolute disregard for the flag.

This is not about the flag. Understand that very clearly. Do not believe for one minute that this is about some proud little Reformer having a Canadian flag on the corner of his desk. This is about grandstanding. It is about headlining and it is about embarrassment. They have truly done just that.

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4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Maurice Godin Bloc Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have followed the debates since two this afternoon, and I was also present during the demonstration.

I would like to set things straight. The Liberals are sensing that the wind is changing direction pretty well everywhere, and also that the public is not thrilled about what went on, so now they are trying to dissociate themselves from it and point the finger at the Reform Party. The Reform Party, however, ought to have been aware that this is not the first time the Liberal Party has not lived up to its commitments. We saw it in 1980, when Trudeau promised to renew federalism. We saw it in 1995, when the present Prime Minister also broke his word.

Now, in this battle, this situation in the House, the Liberals are as responsible as the Reform members.

I have heard a lot of use of words like hypocrite and ridiculous, and a lot of reference to the Bloc Quebecois, which is going to break the country apart.

My question is this: with a day like today and with all its buffoonery, is the Bloc really needed to break apart the country, or will their country break apart just as a result of their own actions?

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4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Bonwick Liberal Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member needs to realize that there are two separate issues. I would be one of the first to admit it. I too stood and waved my Canadian flag and sang the national anthem but I did it in response to a Bloc statement that was made while the MP was travelling on Canadian tax dollars. I was very upset with that. The young people who were in Nagano representing this country at the Olympics deserve more than that as do people from Ontario, Alberta and Quebec. The Bloc members should be absolutely ashamed of themselves for the statements they made.

There are two separate issues. The second issue is this motion that is coming to a head this evening. This motion is about being able to put a flag here. I say it once again. Where does it stop? It is obvious grandstanding and nothing more than that. The good thing about it is the entire country realizes Reformers for what they are, headline grabbers and grandstanders. I am so ashamed of that party.

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4:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Before resuming debate, I should inform members that on questions and comments some members have been standing for quite some time. When we get to the next round of questions and comments we will get over to the member for Mississauga South first. That is a commitment.

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4:30 p.m.

Independent

John Nunziata Independent York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The debate that is taking place is extremely important. I would like the assurance of the Chair and the House that as an independent member I will be given an opportunity to make submissions before the House with respect to this motion. If I could seek consent or have your undertaking to ensure that I would appreciate it.

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4:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for York South—Weston has asked for consent of the House to ensure he will have the opportunity to speak on this motion. Our time will be fairly close with the people on the list. Does the hon. member for York South—Weston have the unanimous consent of the House?

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4:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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4:30 p.m.

An hon. member

No.

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4:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The member does not have unanimous consent.

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4:30 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The previous speaker referred to a letter sent to the member for Edmonton North. We request that it be tabled so we can have a copy of it. We do not know what he is referring to.

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4:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Will the hon. member for Simcoe—Grey undertake to table the letter?

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4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Bonwick Liberal Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would certainly be more than happy to table the document. I am not surprised that one Reform member does not know what another one is doing. That seems to be typical in this House.

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4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères, QC

Mr. Speaker, since this morning we have been involved in discussing a matter which could very well have been debated within the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, except for the Reform Party's obstinate insistence that it be brought before this House once again.

We are discussing whether or not it is appropriate to have a small Canadian flag on members' desks. I will come back to this concept of the Canadian flag in a few minutes. For now, however, I would just like to submit to your attention, and to the attention of all those watching us on television as well as those who are with us in the House to watch our debates live, that we have wasted many hours in discussing this unfortunate matter of flags.

We have wasted the time of this House needlessly in a debate on this matter, with all that involves in terms of costs, staff, utilities and so on to run this venerable institution, in order to discuss such a trivial question.

Trivial, because we have been forced, need I remind the House, to take many minutes away from the budget debate, just because the Reform and Liberal members decided in a fit of rehearsed spontaneity to teach our hon. colleague for Rimouski—Mitis a good lesson. I shall come back to that point as well.

Since then, we have consistently been wasting time in this House. We have been wasting the House's time debating this business rather than the budget, as we should have done, rather than the real misappropriation of funds the millennium fund program constitutes.

Rather than debate this matter, we could have discussed child poverty in Canada. We know that Canada's record on child poverty is one of the worst in the world.

We could have discussed the employment insurance program, I would even say the “so-called employment insurance program”, since it is a euphemism for the unemployment insurance program, and we are in fact debating the unemployment insurance program.

We could have talked about it and the reform that has created problems of poverty throughout Canada, especially in those regions where the economy depends on seasonal work.

We could have debated all these issues. But no. Because of the opinionated Reformers, we are wasting our precious time as parliamentarians debating this matter. I consider this a fine example of the Reformers' double dealing.

I had a discussion behind the curtain. I will not mention the name of the Reformer I was having discussions with, but we were discussing the relevance of this debate, and he said, in all seriousness “This is a goodie for us. It increases our popularity, it is unbelievable. You, separatists, you too will benefit from this”.

What could be more appalling than a political party that promotes its strictly partisan interests over what it claims to be defending—national unity?

I consider this a fine example of the double dealing—I would go so far as to say hypocrisy—of that party.

The tendency all too often is to intimate that this debate would never have occurred were it not for the member for Rimouski—Mitis' unfortunate statement on the Canadian flag in Nagano. This is all a circus, a big sham, a farce.

Reformers and Liberal members could easily have used a forum other than this venerable House of Commons to express their disagreement with the remarks made by my colleague, the hon. member for Rimouski—Mitis.

Incidentally, what was so terrible in what the member for Rimouski—Mitis said in Nagano? She made the same comment many members of this House would have made in front of that many American flags displayed all over any Olympic village. They would have commented on the chauvinism of Americans, implying that they were happy to be Canadians because Canadians are different from Americans. And yet, we saw the very same shameful demonstration of narrow patriotism when too many Canadian flags were displayed.

The hon. member for Rimouski—Mitis never made any comment on the flag itself or questioned its relevance, symbolism and importance to a country like Canada. Never did she denigrate the Canadian flag in any way.

We show the Canadian flag the respect owed to the flag of every country around the world and I never heard any of my colleagues utter negative or disparaging remarks about the Canadian flag. Nor is that what my colleague from Rimouski—Mitis did. She simply noticed a fact, as any member of this House might have, had they witnessed a similar spectacle be it in Nagano or at any other Olympic Games.

I understand that several members of this House openly make this kind of comment about our neighbours to the South in particular, when they show off their patriotism for the world to see. Are we Americanized to the point that we now have to use the same tactics when we participate in international events, going as far as to display, during the closing ceremonies at the Nagano games, a huge flag taking up nearly one third of the olympic stadium in a country like Japan?

What poor taste! What a self-centred attitude, which carries with it the risk of bad press for Canada on the international scene. In the past, Canada had always distinguished itself on the international scene by its avoidance of such manifestations of bad taste. My colleague for Rimouski—Mitis said nothing against the Canadian flag or the national anthem. All she did was voice a very straightforward opinion that there were too many flags.

They seized upon this as a pretext for welcoming her back to Canada with a little surprise, one that was totally spontaneous, according to them. That is why all Liberal and Reform members had carefully set small Canadian flags on their desks all ready for a spontaneous demonstration for the benefit of our colleague for Rimouski—Mitis.

This totally spontaneous demonstration took place on two separate occasions on February 26. The first time was in the early afternoon, when she was speaking in response to the budget speech, and some hon. members rose spontaneously to show her their love of the Canadian flag. At that time, Mr. Speaker, you yourself felt that such a demonstration was totally inappropriate.

Despite the ruling made a few minutes later by the Chair, our spontaneous Liberal and Reform members very carefully kept their little Canadian flags ready on their desks in preparation for another spontaneous demonstration of their love for their flag the next time my colleague for Rimouski—Mitis spoke.

This occurred during Oral Question Period, when the Speaker called upon her to speak and she rose to do so. She rose to ask her question, but even before she could get a single word out, our spontaneous Reform and Liberal colleagues stood up, waving their flags, booed her and, in another surge of equally great spontaneity, began to sing the national anthem, thus creating a lengthy interruption in the proceedings of the House and, understandably, giving their Conservative and NDP colleagues no choice but to stand up and sing along. And all of this was perfectly genuine.

What I personally deplore about this incident, is that the arrogant and exaggerated way in which the anthem was sung obliged me to remain seated during the national anthem, a thing I never do. I stand when any national anthem is sung. But it was done with such contempt that it forced Bloc Quebecois members to remain seated.

Some tried to take advantage of the situation by saying “You see, the separatists remained seated; they have no respect for the symbols of the Canadian identity”. This is not true. We respect the symbols of the Canadian identity.

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4:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

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4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères, QC

Canada is a great country, as are the United States, Germany, Japan and France. It is simply not the country in which I would want to raise my children. But this is an altogether different issue.

Let us quickly go back to the Nagano incident. The member opposite said earlier “She travelled at the expense of Canadian taxpayers. She made disgraceful comments about the Canadian flag, at the expense of Canadian taxpayers”.

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4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Réginald Bélair Liberal Timmins—James Bay, ON

She did too.

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4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères, QC

Indeed. It should be realized that, as long as Quebeckers continue paying close to $31 billion in taxes to the Canadian government, they will continue to benefit from this federation, even though they get too little out of it.

Those parliamentarians who say that the member for Rimouski—Mitis should not use taxpayers' money to say there were too many flags in Nagano are really adding insult to injury.

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4:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

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4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères, QC

As for the unfortunate incident that occurred in this House, the hon. member for Roberval rightly pointed out—

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4:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

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4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères, QC

Mr. Speaker, would you please tell the hysterical member opposite to keep it down while I am speaking?

My colleague, the member for Roberval, quite rightly pointed out that the Standing Orders had been infringed in several respects. First of all, as I pointed out to you earlier, you yourself had issued a ruling. In this respect, parliamentary tradition could not be clearer, and I will later quote article 333 of Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules and Forms , fifth edition.

I will cite Standing Order 10, which is also mentioned in article 168.1 of Beauchesne. It says, and I quote:

  1. The Speaker shall preserve order and decorum, and shall decide questions of order— No debate shall be permitted on any such decision, and no such decision shall be subject to an appeal to the House.

You yourself made a ruling. That ruling notwithstanding, our members, in their spontaneous enthusiasm, returned to the charge a few minutes later. Standing Order 16.2 states that, when a member is speaking, no member shall interrupt him or her, except to raise a point of order.

Obviously, the spontaneous interventions of our Liberal and Reform colleagues were not for the purpose of raising points of order. Their sole purpose was to interrupt, intimidate and poke fun at our colleague, the member for Rimouski—Mitis. In so doing, they were in contravention of the Standing Orders.

Props were also mentioned. The Speaker ruled on this yesterday. Article 333 of Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules and Forms , fifth edition, to which I referred earlier, stipulates that speakers have consistently ruled that it is improper to produce exhibits of any sort in the Chamber, except written documents, of course.

Until further order, this category does not include Canada's flag. It therefore had to be considered a visual prop that should not have been used for the purposes to which it was put.

Furthermore, as soon as the House disintegrated into confusion, the Speaker rose to call members to order. Despite that, our colleagues carried on their heckling to the point of singing the national anthem, thereby contravening another section of Beauchesne, paragraph 168.1, which I also referred to a little earlier. It provides, and I quote:

No member may rise when the Speaker is standing.

Members must accordingly remain silent. That is not what happened. In all respects, yesterday's ruling by the Chair was fair.

Getting back to the incident itself, we have been told, in connection with the remarks made by my colleague from Rimouski—Mitis and sovereignists in general, that we have no respect for the Canadian flag, for the national anthem and for the symbols of Canadian sovereignty.

The Bloc has never questioned in any way the presence of the flags in this House or the singing of the national anthem. In fact, it co-operated with the political parties present in the 35th Parliament to permit the singing of the national anthem here on Wednesdays.

When the Bloc arrived in the House in 1993, there was a single Canadian flag behind you, to your right, as flag etiquette provides. The flag is to be to the right of the Speaker, therefore on the observer's left. This is the way it had been for many years in the House.

Oddly enough, the day after the 1995 referendum, a second Canadian flag appeared, this time to your left, Mr. Speaker.

Although this decision was made obviously for political reasons, the Bloc Quebecois never questioned the relevance of Canadian parliamentarians having a second flag behind the Chair.

So it is not a question of lack of respect by the Bloc members for the symbols of Canadian identity. We are very proud of them. We are very proud that Canada chose as a symbol of its identity what were symbols of French Canadian identity. We are proud that Canada chose the maple leaf in the 1960s, with all the debate it provoked.

I am pleased to see that Reform members are now very proud of this flag. A reading of the debates of the day shows just how opposed members from the West were to the maple leaf flag, which they claimed was not representative of their region, their part of the country.

As for “O Canada”, much has been said about it. It was played for the first time at Quebec City in 1882, on June 24, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, to be exact. The words were by Justice Basile Routhier, and the music by Calixa Lavallée, a native of my riding, incidently.

It must be pointed out, moreover, that when the decision was made to adopt it as the national anthem of Canada, only the first verse was selected, as the rest did not perhaps represent the notion of a national anthem to be sung from coast to coast.

When Basile Routhier wrote of the Canadian “living close to the giant river leading to the sea”, I am certain he was not thinking of the people of the Yukon or Saskatchewan. He was, of course, thinking of the French Canadians, those who had been called “les Canadiens” for centuries, and whose name was taken over as the centuries passed so that it now applies to everyone here.

Much can be said about the Canadian national anthem, but the fact is that, returning to the object of today's debate, this motion by the Reform Party demonstrates that party's duplicity. There were negotiations among the leaders and they were going well. The only party that stood aloof was the Reform Party.

The purpose of the negotiations was to enable us to raise the flag question in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in order to determine whether or not it was appropriate to have Canadian flags on our desks. But no, the grandstanding Reform Party wanted to get TV coverage by forcing Parliament to commit itself and vote on a motion permitting the presence of the flag in this House.

Had they really been serious in this desire, had they really wanted to advance this idea, they would simply have allowed this matter to be dealt with by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, but they did not.

This totally partisan attitude on the part of the Reform members must therefore be punished and condemned.

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4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a brief comment and a question for the member.

Members certainly will know that this has been a media circus. The bottom line is that all of us, this place and all members, look worse. As a end result it has hurt us all.

Five years ago in 1993 when we were elected there was no call for flags on the desks by Reformers. Neither was there in 1994, 1995, 1996 or 1997. There is no question the only reason this came up is that there was a political opportunity. Despite their protestations, this is clearly a political, opportunistic move.

What do we have? We have the Reform member for Medicine Hat who wants to throw a flag. We have the member for Edmonton North who wants to throw books. We have the Reform member for Okanagan—Shuswap who wants to throw punches. All these actions show that there is clearly a bent toward aggressiveness on behalf of the Reform Party. Clearly the motion has to be defeated simply because if we were to put 300 flags around the Chamber it would be like a giant pin cushion. Surely within a week one of them would be impaled.

All Canadians will see through the childish games that are being played by the Reform Party. Canadians will also understand that most members of Parliament are here not only to defend the flag, their country and their constituents but to do whatever we can to make this a better country.

My question for the member concerns the comments by the member of Rimouski—Mitis. The member should concede that her observations were with regard to the athletes' village. Did she go to the athletes and say “dear athletes. you have too many flags”? No, she did not. She waited until she got her photograph. She went to the press. She said to the Canadian people that they had too many flags.

Will the member rise now and concede that his own member is the sole reason we have this terrible situation in the House of Commons today?